If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
Last Sunday we began the second half of the Church year – Trinity season. The colour is green signifying… growth in the Spirit. It began last Sunday with the revelation of God as thrice Holy – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Somehow, this mysterious revelation says something about our souls, made in the image and likeness of the Triune God, and how we can see and enter the Kingdom of God.
Trinity season is a kind of pilgrimage into the heart of God. If you desire to set out on this journey, or desire to follow more closely on this pilgrimage, to see and to enter the kingdom of God, it is God who has inspired you. To want to know God is the Holy Spirit working within you. If you are also ready to direct your faith to Jesus as the trustworthy guide and all sufficient sacrifice for sin, this also is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
In a very real way, if you are baptized and believe, you are already in heaven. We are already counted by God as among the righteous because of Jesus. But we also expected heaven to be a place of peace, of flourishing, and that there would be no more unknowing, or suffering, or sorrow. We know that in another way we are very far from being there yet.
Last week, in our Gospel, Nicodemus came to Jesus by night to ask him how we start that journey. Today our readings could be seen as what Nicodemus might have heard if he came a second time to Jesus after his baptism to ask, So what is my next step? Is there anything I am to do next to possess more fully what is promised to those who are baptised and believe?
When Jesus was asked what is the most important thing to do to enter the Kingdom of God he repeated the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses: love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. [Deut 6:4]
What does this call to love God have to do with seeing and entering the kingdom of heaven? It is this: we see and enter the kingdom of heaven as we become like God, who is love – there is no other way.
Last week I spoke of how St Augustine said the soul is like the Trinity – being, knowing and willing – Father, Son and Spirit. If we know what is good, what is love, but don’t act on it, we are a distorted trinity [as if the Son were greater than the Spirit] – if we simply act without knowing what is good, what is love, our actions will be confused, and our soul a distorted trinity [as if the Son were less than the Spirit]. A proper trinity in the soul is to know what is good and to act on it and so to become love [the Son equal to the Spirit equal to the Father (Augustine says to will the good that we know is love]. It is the integration of all the gifts and talents we have, a kind of unifying all the aspects of our souls and bodies to the service of love. James says, don’t be a hearer that forgets but a doer that acts. [1:25]
So am I loving God with all that I am? If we’re honest about it, we admit that we don’t know ourselves very well. Jesus gives us very practical advice when starting out on this journey. We cannot, at first see our own hearts. So Jesus tells us to look at how we are relating to the people that we meet daily. John, describes it this morning like this [1 John 4:7-21],
If a person says, I love God, and hates his brother [or sister], he is a liar: for whoever does not love his brother [or sister] whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And we have this commandment from Him, that whoever loves God love his brother [and sister] also.
Again, this commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves is in the Law of Moses [Lev. 19:18, 34]. Jesus said it is the second great commandment and it is like the first. But it is much easier for us to know if we love our neighbour, because we can see more clearly our outward actions.
If we don’t consider how we relate to our neighbour or even choose not to love our neighbour John says we are liars, deceived that all is well in our hearts with God in this life. Take baby steps first – look at how we are acting to those around us, those actions reveal the true state of our hearts before God – our actions truly are our judge.
Jesus tells this morning a scary story of self-deception – it is scary, because the consequences of one man’s failure to love is hell [St Luke 16:19-31].
There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who was laid at his gate full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
In the Parable, the two men die: Lazarus is in heaven in Abraham’s bosom while the rich man is in torment in hell. Jesus is saying there is a life to come after this life, and there is a judgement of how we live now. In the next life the rich man looks up and cries out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” But Jesus says it is too late, the choices we make in this life become the fixed disposition of our souls. When we die there is the unveiling of the spiritual state of our soul in this life – it will reveal truly where our heart is.
The rich man loved fine clothing, he loved fine food, and he loved the fine house he had, he had a wall and a gate around it to protect it. No problem with loving these things, but is that all?
The love that came down upon him from above was turned towards satisfying the lowest aspect of his soul and body and its fuller and final purposes were rejected by him. He brought himself to a place of torment, in this life and that continued in the life to come.
Imagine if every thought and desire that we had, was like God’s thoughts and desires. And imagine if every God-like thought was brought into action: to create, to heal and restore that which is broken, to build up the broken hearted and encourage the weak, to beautify our world. Imagine all that we are, every aspect of our soul and body, brought together into the service of true love – isn’t that what we want?
In the parable, the rich man in hell pleads that someone go and warn his brothers so they don’t end up where he is. Abraham responds that if they don’t believe the Law and the Prophets, which lay out the great commandments to love God and neighbour, then no miracles or great signs, even if someone should rise from the dead, will convince them to change the direction of their lives, with its sad ending. Jesus is anticipating that many will reject Him even after His resurrection from the dead.
It seems the rich man at one point did know something of the God of Israel, and the commandments to love, but he never chose to act on it. In time his heart shrank and was hardened to the “simple” call to love those around him, and that is to be in hell, a life only trying to satisfy the unquenchable lower passions but experiencing no relief and no transcendence.
It need not be like this! St John says in today’s Epistle [1 John 4:7-21],
If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us; because he has given us of his Spirit.
The more we respond to, act upon, the movement of love in our souls, the more we are infilled with love, with God, and what we love and our acting on that knowledge is perfected in us. This is to taste the life of heaven – God dwelling in us and we, coming to realize we are in God. It is learning to cooperate with the grace given to us. It is the restoration of the trinitarian image of God in our souls – that what we know to be good and true, becomes what we act upon (what we will), and we become love. It is a spiraling ascent into the kingdom of God. We see what is good to do, we see the kingdom of God, and by grace we act upon what is good, that is to enter into the kingdom of God, and then we see further into the Kingdom of God and, acting on that, we enter more fully in the kingdom of God – knowing, willing, becoming love in all that we are.
This is how we grow in holiness, this is how we become sanctified, this is how we become like God.
Who is the neighbour at our door that we can show hospitality to this coming week, as individuals and as a church? What are the opportunities for love that are presenting themselves before us? These are the opportunities presenting themselves before us to see and enter more fully the Kingdom of God; this is the pilgrimage into the heart of God – it is not some distant place, it is right before our eyes.
God is the ultimate rich man, but he is not like the rich man in the parable – he opens wide the gates of hospitality to us. Let us prepare ourselves now for the banquet of heaven, by repentance and faith, to eat and to drink, the Bread and from the Cup, the Body and Blood of Christ – to be infilled with the knowledge of his love and given the grace to act upon that knowledge to love our neighbours as ourselves.